Thursday, July 28, 2016

Port Lympne's Dinosaur Forest

Port Lympne (pronounced like 'limb') is a wildlife park in Kent, not too far from Hythe, which along with Howletts zoo (nearer Canterbury) is run by the Aspinall Foundation. Port Lympne houses a huge variety of mammal species, and notably features safari truck rides through a sprawling 'savannah' paddock, as well as a number of very rare species that you won't see in many other parks. As of this year, it also features life-size model dinosaurs (andotherprehistoricanimals) designed by industry stalwarts Wolter Design. They're (often) huge, numerous, colourful, varied and actually rather good. Here's a selection.

This won't be a surprise to some readers - Wolter Design are well-established and commendably committed to scientific accuracy. Even if they don't always quite get things right, their models are way ahead of a lot of the fare out there, and they do consult with scientists when designing their dinos at least some of the time. In fact, Wolter models have featured on LITC before, way back in 2011, when I visited Dierenpark Amersfoort in the Netherlands. This time around, I had Niroot, Dave Hone (for it was he) and Dave's friend Charlie for company. Nothing quite like having a palaeontologist handy...

The new Dinosaur Forest in Port Lympne is a circular walkthrough in the woods, leading visitors from the Devonian in the Palaeozoic, through the Mesozoic, and finally on to the Age of Stinkin' Mammals. There's also some funny stuff thrown in at the start, including a 'stick-your-head-in-a-tyrannosaur's-mouth' photo opportunity and a dromaeosaur perched on an old Land Rover (above). It's probably where the vehicle finally ended up on the ten thousandth time that it broke down, and the park decided to leave it there.

Naturally, there are models of all the usual suspects (Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, 'raptors' etc.), and I'll be getting to those in a bit, 'cos they're still cool after all. However, and as you might have guessed from the fact that the Forest features Palaeozoic animals (other than Dimetrodon), there are plenty of lesser-seen beasties here. There's even a Eusthenopteron, for crying out loud, probably to make Darren Naish happy. One of the most striking is a gorgonopsid (above), an excellent model perfectly positioned to show off those fearsome-looking teeth.

Moving on to the Triassic, and Cynognathus puts in an appearance, looking admirably furry and a little like a badger. This rather drab, unassuming fellow can't help but be upstaged by...


Once again, this is surely a nod to Bakker's 'Syntarsus' and its millions of imitations. That it happens to look like a no-good street punk from the dystopian future of a 1980s sci-fi movie is just a happy coincidence.

The (gasp!) quadrupedal Plateosaurus model that popped up in Amersfoort also appears here. I hear that they've now developed a bipedal version, so fear not.

Into the Jurassic, and one of the few pterosaurs to appear - Pterodactylus. (In fact, it might be the only one, although don't quote me on that.) Other than being a little large, and their wing fingers a little short, Dave was quite impressed by these, especially the 'sitting' one. He knows a thing or two about pterosaurs, apparently, so kudos to Wolter Design there. Charlie remarked that the top one looked rather muscular and intimidating, like it should be saying "Bro, do you even (generate) lift?" His joke, not mine, I'd like to make clear.

Dave was also impressed by this Scelidosaurus, which shows an impressively up-to-date understanding of the animal's armour, even if its feet are a little large.

I promised a Stegosaurus, so here it is, with an oblivious Dave for scale. (You have to catch him before he strides off into the distance.) Again, this would appear to be the same model as the one in Amersfoort, but a tiny baby (with nubbin plates) is thrown in this time for good measure. Juvenile animals pop up quite often here, and they are never miniaturised versions of the adults. They are also frequently in danger of being scooped up in the jaws of some toothy, chicken-legged monstrosity, which fits in nicely with Dave's views of predatory dinosaurs' likely hunting habits.

Stegosaurus' ertswhile nemesis Allosaurus stands nearby, gawping menacingly. The scutes are an odd touch and would look more at home on a ceratosaur, but otherwise it's very cool. Dave noted that here the glass eyes are a real boon, as the subsequently bulging eyeballs look convincing and give the animal a (limited) degree of binocular vision, as seen above.

When it comes to gawping, none can beat the park's permanently surprised (or possibly outraged) Europasaurus, accompanied by two juveniles.

In the above photo, Niroot and Dave attempt to round up the distressed sauropods.

Of course, it's all fun and games until someone loses a plesiosaur in the woods. Quite a sorry sight.

There's also a controversially naked Compsognathus hiding behind a big wooden barrier nearby. I like to call him 'Hans'.

Arty photo by Niroot.
 When I visited Dierenpark Amersfoort, I was highly impressed by the full-size sauropods on offer. Sadly, there's no brachiosaur here, but it's made up for with a spectacular rearing Diplodocus. It reminded me of the mounted Barosaurus in the AMNH. There are also juveniles, being chased by the tyrannosaur featured in the photo on the left. Why a tyrannosaur? I dunno, they probably bought one as part of a Big Bumper Bag of Fibreglass Monstrosities of Long Ago and weren't sure what to do with it.

As we turn 'round the bend into the Cretaceous period, up pop a gang of unruly Deinonychus, sporting unwieldy retro-Bakkerian heads and inadequate plumage. But hey, at least they're feathered with more than a few scraggly tufts, which is more than can be said about the diabolical CGI abominations featured on nearby signage. (The signage is very good in terms of information provided, but...the reconstructions they use. By Bakker's beard, they are appalling.) Again, the predators appear to be going for a tiny baby iguanodont (just visible in the bottom right of the above photo) rather than the larger, more dangerous, animal. Which is cool.

Interestingly, Velociraptor (the second one below) features primary feathers, unlike its larger counterpart. The head could do with being refined, but it's still a wonderful sight in an attraction like this.

Horned dinosaurs more your thing? Well, there are plenty of them, too, all accompanied by juveniles. As well as the more typical Styracosaurus and Triceratops, the park boasts Centrosaurus brinkmani, which was apparently split from Centrosaurus back in 2012, becoming Coronosaurus brinkmani. And why wasn't I told!?! In any case, Dave is seen here measuring the skull dimensions with his own head. Apparently he "could fit between the frill and the jugal boss" - good to know.

There, there. Photo by Niroot.
Eventually, you've got to give the punters what they've been looking for - a freakishly huge coelurosaur with a disproportionately huge mouth full of finely honed stabby things, a gigantic barrel for a chest, and tiny arms that could still totally deadlift like over 200 kilos, bruh. Yes, it's Sexy Rexy, and even with scaly skin and slightly wonky arms and weird cheek warts, he is looking particularly sexy here! I know, the butt shot is frankly gratuitous, but I can't help myself. This is an awe-inspiring model.

Sadly, the non-avian dinosaurs all perished in a global cataclysm at the end of the Mesozoic, leaving only hordes of smelly mammals, a small family of humans equipped with an absurdly Brobdingnagian wooden boat, and a nonsensical supernatural entity to dominate the Earth. This was also the point at which the party of schoolkids that had threatened to catch up with us during our tour were getting worryingly close, hence my rather rushed photo of Dave with a brontohere (below). Sorry Dave, although one could argue that you shouldn't have blinked.

Seconds by Niroot
Just as in the earlier sections, there were some surprising mammals in the Cenozoic line-up, including a proto-whale (Ambulocetus?), a gomphothere, and an entelodont, which prompted a bit of larking about.

Photo by Dave
I hadn't been to Port Lympne for years before this visit, and was looking to go back when I could anyway, but the opening of the Dinosaur Forest provided the perfect excuse. It more than exceeded my expectations, mostly thanks to the work of Wolter Design, but also because of the care and attention that clearly went into the whole thing. Many of the models are arranged strategically to appear spectacular, mysterious, monstrous, or some combination thereof from the footpaths. Looming from between the trees and towering over the heads of punters, they offer an excellent chance to experience the sheer scale of Mesozoic life (and I guess the non-dinosaurs aren't too shabby either). Combine this lot with a vast, open zoo and you're in for a good time.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the remarkable, Witton-pleasing reclining ornithopod. Very chill.


  1. Thank you. That was a wonderful tour, especially for those of us unlikely to ever get to Port Lympne. I learned a lot from your descriptions. If Dr. Hone liked the Pterodactylus, it must be good!

  2. Yes, interesting to see Pterodactylus with a crest. Is that a new development?

  3. That compsagnathus is missing it's hands.

  4. Fascinating tour. I can send you some pics of The Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford (Oregon), if you're interested.


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